By Jennifer Jimenez, Special to Independent
Earning an A+ School of Excellence recognition from the Arizona Educational Foundation is no easy feat.
The initial hurdle is recognizing your school is an A+ school. Which is the case of Valley Vista High School Principal Bobbie Lockhart, who had her team looking into the application process three years ago, they didn’t believe they were ready.
It wasn’t until current Superintendent Dr. Quinn Kellis gave her the vote of confidence during a 1-on-1 meeting with her last fall.
“Dr. Kellis asked me why we haven’t applied for the A+ recognition and I explained our position and he looked at me and told me we are an A+ school,” Ms. Lockhart said. “We got off to late start just before Fall Break last October, but we formed a committee and the team just ran with it.”
Ms. Lockhart said they’ve had several different types of visits for accreditations and each time they say how special Valley Vista is and how the culture and climate are different. She said that’s done purposefully and everything they do is about being the best they can for the kids.
This recognition is validating for the entire campus of Valley Vista, crediting the teamwork and collaboration. Ms. Lockhart thanked her staff for their quest for excellence.
“This validates our hard work and movement in the right direction for the entire team. We have high expectations for ourselves, one another and our kids,” she said. “It truly embodies how we feel. These are all our kids and that’s our expectation.”
Valley Vista English teacher Gina Ostlund said the award sets the bar for everyone. She said all 2,600 students can celebrate being an A+ school.
“The label is a testament to all the collaboration our staff does and all the faucets of Valley Vista are reflected,” she said.
While sitting at the front desk and as the first person to interact with Valley Vista, receptionist Samantha Korbal said she hears daily how great their school is from parents, students, the community and those hoping to become a part of the Valley Vista family.
“Having this label will reflect what a lot of people already know about our campus and its great,” she said.
Ms. Lockhart has received a great deal of recognition for the accomplishment, but she said this isn’t about her.
“This is about the teams we have built here and ever member truly had the opportunity to give input and we made sure everyone believed in what we are saying about our campus,” she said. “It is truthful what we are about here and I could not be more proud of the team. It’s every single person from the plant foreman to the cafeteria team and it takes all those wheels turning in the same direction to have this success.”
Taking a peak into small things Valley Vista is doing to show improvement includes feedback they received form the evaluators that came in. Ms. Lockhart said they shared a story from a randomly selected kid of his improvement from D’s to C’s in the past year and described how he felt he wasn’t recognized. She believes they let that student down, but is already working to ensure this doesn’t happen and plans are in the work for the next school year.
“You truly have to be open to the collective think tank as it is always better and you have to be receptive to change,” Ms. Lockhart said.
Ms. Ostlund said they are constantly reflecting on what worked and what didn’t and comparing this year to last year. She said constant revision makes Valley Vista a special place and they are improving things every opportunity they have.
“Some people think the continuous improvement process is a negative thing, but for me this is just engraved in who we are,” Ms. Lockhart said.
The support from the district level truly got the ball rolling for Valley Vista and Ms. Lockhart and her school are thankful for the support. She said it was phenomenal for Mr. Kellis to know enough about Valley Vista right after taking over as superintendent to say they were an A-plus school.
“I’ll take that as a vote of confidence and we are on our way and he is so proud of all of us,” she said.
Ms. Oslund echoed her thoughts saying when leadership invests time in each campus and walks through classrooms, it speaks to the moral of the entire district.
“It says to us they want us here and we are good at what we do and support us as we continue to get better,” she explained.
To be eligible for this recognition, schools have to submit applications that provide demographic information, a description of current programs and practices, documentation of parent and community involvement, a profile of the school’s leadership and commitment to excellence, equity and service.
Schools must also demonstrate sustained high achievement or significant improvement through assessment data. Winning schools are recognized for their superior ability to identify and meet the academic and non-academic needs of their students population. The recognition is valid for the next three years.
For information on the A+ School of Excellence recognition, log on to www.azedfoundation.org.